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Volunteer Project in Tanzania

Donovan Pacholl and his fiancé Carrie O’Callaghan moved to Tanzania in the spring of March 2002. He and Carrie wanted to really experience Africa, while also find a volunteer organization that helped work with local communities. Prior to his departure, Donovan met American-based International Mountain Explorers Connection (IMEC), a non-profit dedicated to helping mountain communities in developing countries. Since they were living on Mt. Kilimanjaro, the highest mountain in Africa, this seemed like a perfect a fit.

1) Tell us briefly about your volunteer experience in Tanzania. What do you do?
Initially when I arrived in Tanzania, I was doing some research on the effects of the Digital Divide, as I used to work for an organization called Interconnection. After the research, I began to work with the International Mountain Explorers Connection, helping to start an office that helped porters on Mt. Kilimanjaro. Porters on the mountain are the ones that carry the tourist’s entire luggage to the top of one of the highest mountains in the world. It’s a minimum of five day climbing with at least 25 kilos. This isn’t an easy task for anyone. Over the years, as more and more tourists have climbed the mountain (now 25,000 per year), the demand for porters is increasing. Some companies pay their porters well and make sure they carry the appropriate weight and others companies choose to take advantage of them. They pay the low wages and ask them to carry too much weight. I was asked to start an office in Moshi, the local town, that looked at ways to help the porters on Kilimanjaro, everything from lending clothes to teaching English and First Aid. Over the years, the project continues to grow and we are looking at other services to help porters.

2) What is the most difficult thing about working in Tanzania?
When you strip human beings of all the luxuries in life, you find that people, and particularly in Tanzania, just want to feed and shelter their family. They will do anything to make that happen; it’s an instinct because they are only searching for survival. Because opportunities and jobs are so limited and close to non-existent, sometimes they have to take drastic measures to make sure this happens. If your children were starving and you had no money, would you steal some rice to feed them, or let them become malnourished?

Also, It’s difficult to make friends with people who have little chance for succeeding economically. Many of them are bright, eager, and interested in the world and would be great workers anywhere. Only a few of your dollars could dramatically help their economic situation for the day. You want to help them, but the following day, you would need to help them again. When you make many friends, all who have the same problems, it’s tough to help all of them.

3) What is the easiest thing about volunteering in Tanzania?

I wouldn’t say that anything is easy in Tanzania. Life is difficult for everyone and making the littlest thing happen sometimes involves a tremendous amount of work. I think one of the easiest things about Tanzania is how receptive people are to you and your work. If you have an idea and want to make it happen, in general people will support it.

4) What is one word of advice you could give for someone moving to Africa to volunteer?
Be ready to have all your thoughts, ideas, and biases challenged about the world – and for Africa. The mainstream perception of Africa isn’t 100 true, and there are many beautiful things about the countries and the hundreds of millions of people on the huge continent. If you’re going to live and work in Africa, life will be difficult, regardless of what you’re doing or how much money you have. There is a different ways of doing business, interacting with others and forming relationships. It’s a new system of beliefs that you – the volunteer – must subscribe to in order to make things happen. America or Western Europe doesn’t own the secrets to the world. There are many great qualities and ways of livings that Africans could teach us.

Another thing to remember is that your expectations for the workday, or how to get things done, should always be low. Remember sometimes there is no electricity, a flood, a vehicle breaks down, and many things hinder your ability to get your work done. It’s just part of life and people accept that way of living.

5) Is your project for porters successful? Any problems?
To some degree the project has been successful. Initially we made some big mistakes with how our services (clothes rental for free) would be used, and unfortunately we lost some money, made some mistakes, but now are hopefully growing the project in the right direction.

Overall our goal of raising awareness has paid off. More and more companies are taking the necessary steps to ensure that porters are properly treated on the mountain. If the tourists request it, then it will happen.

6) Do you have anything else to say?
Africa is one of the most beautiful places on the planet; if you take the time to not focus on the poverty, but to meet the local people, show interest in their life, and to not patronize their way of life.